|Reason for hearing
Violation of Rule 3.09(b): Rest Room Facilities and Health Regulations – February 6, 2016 – At approximately 12:10 am, the Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) and BLLC responded to the establishment to conduct an investigation. Upon conducting an inspection the BCPD and BLLC determined that the establishment had no running hot water. This information was communicated to the Baltimore City Health Department who then informed the BCPD to close the establishment due to a health violation. The bar manager was notified of the violation.
Violation of Rule 3.02: Cooperation – February 6, 2016 – At approximately 12:10 am, the Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) and BLLC responded to the establishment to conduct an investigation. Upon determining that there was an infraction that required the establishment to be closed the BCPD began to clear the bar of patrons. At this time the owner/manager Mr. Nicholas Ramos became very agitated and began yelling and cursing at the BCPD and BLLC. Mr. Ramos began recording the joint task force with a camera. This was not an issue to the taskforce. However, Mr. Ramos then activated a bright light on his camera and began pointing it in the eyes of the BCPD and BLLC. The light was blinding and both the BLLC and BCPD felt like Mr. Ramos’ actions put them at risk.
Violation of Rule 3.12: Public Welfare – February 6, 2016 – At approximately 12:10 am, the Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) and BLLC responded to the establishment to conduct an investigation. Upon determining that there was an infraction that required the establishment to be closed the BCPD began to clear the bar of patrons. At this time the owner/manager Mr. Nicholas Ramos became very agitated and began yelling and cursing at the BCPD and BLLC and acting in a way that put the safety of local law enforcement at risk. Upon exiting the establishment, Mr. Ramos following both BLLC and BCPD personnel out their vehicles and began yelling at them. At least 4 people on the public walkways who were not involved in this event stopped walking and approached the BLLC and BCPD to observe Mr. Ramos yelling. Due to Mr. Ramos’ actions the BCPD and BLLC took extra precautions when entering their vehicles and leaving the establishment.
Violation of Rule 4.16: Illegal Conduct – February 24, 2016 – At approximately 4:43 pm, the BLLC reviewed the Maryland Judiciary’s Business Records on-line and determined that the trader’s license issued to the La Rumba, LLC was delinquent.
Before the hearing began, Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth introduced letters from community organizations and individuals, including from: Jeff May, David Kim of the Broadway Business Association, Victor Corbin, Joanne Masopust, and the Washington Hill Community Association.
The licensee was represented by Miguel Palmiero.
Liquor Board Inspector John Chrissomallis testified that he did an inspection of the bar with the police department, as laid out in the charges, and found that the bar had no hot water. The Baltimore City police officers contacted the City Health Department and made the decision to close the bar until the hot water was restored. Mr. Ramos began yelling and cursing when the police told him to close. He started recording the police and activated a bright light on his camera. Chrissomallis said that he felt that Mr. Ramos was out of control, irate, and verbally abusive. He followed the task force officers and inspectors down the street, recording, yelling, and causing a scene. Under cross-examination, Chrissomallis testified further that he often coordinates with police for evening inspections. There were about 12 officers and personnel, total. That particular night, they did about 10 inspections.
Ms. Jessica Speaker, from the City Health Department, confirmed that the health department has the authority to close a food establishment if they do not have hot running water. The health department began receiving complaints about this location around February: through 311 and also through city and state representatives. The complaints were about noise, drunken customers, nuisance issues, uncleanliness, and trash.
Detective Abraham Gatto, from the Vice Unit, corroborated Chrissomallis’s testimony. He said that Ramos was shining a bright light in the officers’ eyes and shouting about how he doesn’t have any prostitution or drugs in his bar. The verbal assault on the officers continued until the officers drove away. They inspected approximately ten establishments that evening and found three were not in compliance with the law.
Baltimore Police Sergeant Chris Leisher testified that he is the one who selects the locations of the evening inspections, based on 911 and 311 calls and other complaints from individuals and police officers or city agencies. They have received a lot of complaints about this particular establishment from many different people. There were three inspections in a nine-day period, because Mr. Ramos refused to fix the hot water issue but kept reopening his business, which he was not allowed to do.
Fells Prospect Community Association president Chrissy Anderson testified that, in a previous hearing on September 23, 2013, she had said that this bar was very close to becoming a blight on the community. She said that, in the intervening time, the situation has gotten worse, not better. She relayed Commissioner Trotter’s comment to Mr. Ramos at that time, that if the establishment did not improve, that he, as a commissioner, would recommend closing the business. Trotter asked Neil, “did I say that?” Anderson also noted that Neil had told the licensees to clean up their business and be a good neighbor. She said that these violations of law were serious health violations, which were a detriment to businesses and residents. The licensees have not been responsive to concerns from community members.
Ms. Tania Ramos, the licensee who runs the business with her husband, Nicolas, apologized to the police officers on behalf of her husband for his conduct. She said that he was very frustrated and desperate, because the economic downturn has hit his business hard. Their property is under water. She told the community members that they cannot continue to push people out of the neighborhood. No one likes the customers at La Rumba, Ms. Ramos said, because they are low-income, don’t dress well, and don’t know about etiquette. She said that, on the same night of the inspection of her business, there was a shooting and a hit and run within a couple of blocks of the establishment. She complained of the stigma that the police presence was putting on her business. She said that the photos that the community members submitted of people passed out behind the restaurant were of homeless people, not her customers. Ramos said that the hot water heater for the business was too small and could not keep up with their needs, so they replaced it. She and her husband have worked in the evenings to get the business up to code.
Jessica Speaker, from the health department, testified that she had been present at a different inspection on February 12, with a few vice squad officers. They observed cockroaches and a dead baby rat on a kitchen counter, as well as lots of clutter in the walk-in cooler, including children’s toys. The women’s restroom did not have hot water. The conditions in the business were generally unsanitary and there were some structural issues with the floor, which felt as though it was giving way under the inspectors’ feet.
Ramos’s attorney then played the video that Mr. Ramos had taken of the incident. Ms. Ramos said, before the video played, that she was appalled by Mr. Ramos’s language, and she apologized again.
Mr. Palmeiro then went through the four alleged violations. He submitted documentation showing that the trader’s license issue under the fourth charge had been fixed. Palmeiro said that the only issue alleged for the rest of the violations is the issue with the hot water. He reiterated that the hot water heater that the Ramoses had was functional but too small. He said that even though his clients didn’t need to do so, they purchased and installed a larger hot water heater. As for the public welfare charge, Mr. Ramos was upset in response to the large police force in his business. Palmeiro said that Mr. Ramos has the right to videotape and to use the light on his cell phone, which could not have interfered with the officers’ duties. Palmeiro concluded that the violations against this business are minute in relation to everything else that happens in Baltimore. There were no fights or other criminal charges.
The executive secretary noted that there had been prior violations within the last 3 years at this location. In 2013, they were found responsible for a sale to a minor. On September 24, 2015, this set of commissioners found the licensee responsible for four similar sanitation and safety violations.
Ms. Anderson, of Fells Prospect, testified that the business has been an ongoing problem, both inside and outside. She said that she has seen the issues herself and taken photos. Anderson testified that she had offered to work with the Ramoses, but they had never reached out to her. Commissioner Trotter asked whether there had been any changes to the business since the last hearing in September; Anderson replied that they had cleaned up some of the mess behind the building, but most of the issues have remained. Ms. Ramos disagreed with this assessment.